Mildred Rinker Bailey (1907-1951)
Born in Tekoa, Washington on February 27th, 1907, Mildred Rinker had a Couer d’Alene mother and Irish father. She spent much of her childhood living near Spokane but visited the reservation often.
At the age of thirteen, she moved to Seattle and pursued a singing career. After moving to California she played piano for silent films and by 1925 Mildred became a headlining act in Hollywood. In 1929, she sent a demo disc to Paul Whiteman, a popular bandleader, who provided her enough exposure she started her own radio program, The Mildred Bailey Radio Show. Bailey was a recognized blues and jazz singer on the West Coast known for her “small, high-pitched” voice. She performed with the Rhythm Boys, and is not only considered the first female microphone singer, but America’s first female big band singer.
Her signature song “Rockin’ Chair” was recorded in 1937. By 1944, a Time Magazine review named Bailey “just about the greatest songbird in the US.” Her husband, Red Norvo, was a xylophonist and vibraphonist. They became known as Mr. and Mrs. Swing, and performed in each other’s recording even after their marriage ended.
Bailey continued to perform and record until the mid-1940s when her health interfered. She suffered from diabetes and died of a heart attack in 1951.
In 1989, Bailey was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame. In addition, Julia Keefe wrote to the Neshui Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame recommending Mildred Bailey be considered for induction into the Neshui Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame.